Tony Ding / AP

The pedestal that has been holding up a beloved American tradition is finally starting to teeter. American football is seeing backlash like never before, as athletes and researchers alike have become more vocal about the dangers that are not often talked about.

It’s no secret that football players are prone to injury. If you sign up for a sport in which the main objective is to slam players down into unforgiving turf, then you’re bound to suffer bruises, torn ligaments and even broken bones.

But we’re not talking about mere short-term injuries—we’re talking about long-term brain damage.

When HealthGrove looked at data from the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), it was clear that football’s concussion rate surpassed that of any other sport. The NEISS collects injury reports every year from 100 emergency departments, showing that an estimated 17,627 concussions occur on average every year—close to double the number for basketball and soccer.

In fact, of all the ways to suffer an injury in football, the head and neck are at the most risk, after fingers. Of these head and neck cases, about 25 percent are reported as concussions.

The media has started to bring attention to the issue in recent months, especially in the NFL. Rookie Adrian Coxson of the Green Bay Packers recently became the third player to retire from the league this offseason amid concerns that his concussions could lead to permanent brain damage, joining former 49ers Chris Borland and Anthony Davis. According to Forbes, Coxson’s Grade 3 concussion could cause “significant long-term impacts such as cognitive impairment, motor skill problems and neurodegeneration.”

Several retired NFL players have vocalized their fears of subjecting their children to the sport, saying they probably won’t let them participate. HeathGrove divided the incidences of concussions by age group from 1997-2014 to see if those former players are right to be concerned.

The number of head trauma incidents that involved a trip to the ER has risen in children ages 15-19, but has especially increased in the 10-14 age group. Perhaps the number of concussions are, in fact, increasing. But it’s also likely that more are being reported because people are becoming increasingly vigilant.

The post-high school age group, though, has seen a pretty stagnant number of concussions over time. This could be because out of the estimated 1,093,234 people who play football in high school, only about 6.5 percent play in the NCAA in college. And, of that 6.5 percent (about 71,291), just 1.6 percent go pro. This pool is small to begin with, so less people are at risk for injury. Additionally, these are only reported concussions (involving a trip to the ER), so it’s likely that college and professional players can consult with their team’s dedicated medical staff instead of going straight to the hospital.

Though these numbers are striking, overall it seems that the numbers are reflecting the raised awareness of the concussion crisis that is slowly permeating all rungs of the football community. The number of concussions in each age group has slowly decreased in the last year or so, which could be related to declining youth involvement in football. In fact, Pop Warner saw a participation drop of 9.5 percent between 2010-2012, citing concerns about head injuries as “the No. 1 cause.”

It isn’t likely that America’s love of football will die out any time soon, but increased awareness of the sport’s dangers are spawning a larger debate about how to increase safety measures. Some critics of the concussion crisis are worried that stricter rules would ruin their beloved sport, but others—even professional players themselves—believe our priorities need to shift.

“I don’t want [my son] to play football because I think this young, smart black kid,” Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson told PBS. “I want him to be intelligent; I want him to be brilliant; I want him to be able to use his brain and not his brawn. And I want him to be the best that he can be.”

Research More Medical Conditions on HealthGrove